Yankees Must Let Aaron Judge Get Healthy Before They Ruin Him

Jacob Shafer@@jacobshaferFeatured ColumnistSeptember 6, 2017

NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 03: Aaron Judge #99 of the New York Yankees in action against the Boston Red Sox during a game at Yankee Stadium on September 3, 2017 in the Bronx borough of New York City. (Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images)
Rich Schultz/Getty Images

For much of the 2017 season, the catchphrase around New York Yankees slugger Aaron Judge has been "all rise."

Now, it's time to shift into "all sit." As in, give the kid a break.

Judge's first-half dominance was as well-documented as his second-half struggles, but let's recap both.

Prior to the All-Star break, he appeared to be the second coming of Babe Ruth melded with an alien upgrade of Miami Marlins masher Giancarlo Stanton.

The strapping 25-year-old hit .329 with a 1.139 OPS and 30 home runs, and looked like a lock for not merely American League Rookie of the Year honors but an MVP trophy as well.

Since the break, Judge's numbers have plummeted like a cinder block in the East River. His average has tumbled to .182, his OPS to .707 and he's added only eight home runs to his season total. His robust 49 percent hard contact rate has dipped to 34 percent. 

A number of theories have been floated to explain Judge's malaise. Maybe it's the league adjusting to him, as it does to all young hitters, even the great ones.

Maybe participating in the Home Run Derby threw off his mechanics, which Yankees hitting coach Alan Cockrell intimated, per Dan Martin of the New York Post.

Or, perhaps it's Judge's bum shoulder.

NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 03: Aaron Judge #99 of the New York Yankees in action during a game against the Boston Red Sox at Yankee Stadium on September 3, 2017 in the Bronx borough of New York City. (Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images)
Rich Schultz/Getty Images

That last possibility is the most probable and most troubling. Judge has been icing his left shoulder "heavily" after each game, per Brendan Kuty of NJ Advance Media. 

"I've got ice on my shoulders, my knees. I wish I could ice my whole body," Judge said, per Mike Mazzeo of the New York Daily News. "I've got to ice it every day. The whole body is kind of beat up."

That's par for the course this time of year. The 162-game grind takes its toll on everyone, especially rookies.

The question is: Should the Yankees risk the long-term health of their franchise bopper? 

At 74-63, New York is 2.5 games behind the Boston Red Sox for first place in the AL East. It holds the Junior Circuit's top wild-card position.

The "rebuild" is blossoming ahead of schedule in the Bronx. This club has a realistic shot at October.

At the same time, the Yankees are constructed for the future, with a fertile farm system, homegrown talent on the MLB roster and money slated to come off the books, setting them up to spend on the vaunted 2018-19 free-agent class. 

Judge is, literally, a massive piece of that future. 

What if New York keeps trotting him out and the shoulder gets worse? What if, DiMaggio forbid, he needs surgery?

"I believe his struggles are mechanical [and] have nothing to do, in our mind, with his shoulder," skipper Joe Girardi said, per Dave Sheinin of the Washington Post. "He feels pretty good about it, so I feel pretty good about it." 

MINNEAPOLIS, MN - JULY 17: Aaron Judge #99 and manager Joe Girardi #28 of the New York Yankees look on during batting practice before the game against the Minnesota Twins on July 17, 2017 at Target Field in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The Twins defeated the Y
Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

Players are supposed to say they feel pretty good about it. They're conditioned to rub on some dirt and get back out there. 

It's up to coaches and front offices to step in and do what's best for the long haul, even if it stings in the here and now.

This is the part where we mention Judge homered Sunday for the first time since Aug. 16. It could be the beginning of a resurgence. 

Also, there's something to be said for striking while the iron is hot. The Yankees have a shot at the playoffs. They haven't advanced as far as the division series since 2012, which counts as a protracted drought at 1 E. 161st St.

Taking care of your burgeoning assets is paramount, though. New York wants Judge to be launching dingers in 2018, 2019, 2020 and beyond.

Overtaxing him now, and pushing his shoulder from annoyance to lingering problem, doesn't make sense. Not to be overly dramatic, but these are the decisions that can ruin players.

All rise is all well and good. Sometimes, though, even a Judge needs to hit the bench.

           

All statistics current as of Tuesday and courtesy of MLB.com and FanGraphs.

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